Eclogues and Georgics (Mackail 1910)/Georgics 1
What makes the cornfields glad; beneath what star it befits to upturn the ground, Maecenas, and clasp the vine to her elm; the tending of oxen and the charge of the keeper of a flock; and all the skill of thrifty bees; of this will I begin to sing. You, O bright splendours of the world, who lead on the rolling year through heaven; Liber and gracious Ceres, if by your gift Earth exchanged Chaonian acorns for the swelling ear, and tempered her draughts of Achelous with the discovered grape; and you, O Fauns, guardian presences of the country, trip it together. Fauns and Dryad girls; of your gifts I sing. And thou, Neptune, at whose mighty trident-stroke Earth first bore the neighing steed; and thou, O forester, whose three hundred snow-white bullocks crop the rich Cean brakes; even thou, leaving thy native woodland and thy Lycean lawns. Pan of Tegea, shepherd of the flock, so thou love thy Maenalus, be gracious and come; and Minerva inventress of the olive, and thou, boy teacher of the crooked plough, and Silvanus carrying thy slim cypress uprooted; gods and goddesses all who keep the fields in your care, or who feed the fresh plants from no sown seed, or who send down on the crops plentiful rain from heaven; and thou, whatsoever place thou art soon to hold in the gods' consistory, whether thou wilt look on cities and have earth in keeping, and the vast world receive thee as fosterer of harvests and sovereign of seasons, and wreathe thy brows with thy mother's myrtle; or whether thou come as god of the infinite sea, and thy deity only be adored of sailors, to thee utmost Thule be tributary, thy hand Tethys purchase for her daughter with dower of all her waves; or whether thou set thyself as a new sign among the lingering months, where space opens between Erigone and the following Claws, while before thee the blazing Scorpion draws in his arms, and retreats from more than the allotted space of heaven; whatso thou wilt be—for hell cannot hope thy reign, nor may so dread a desire of reigning ever be thine, though Greece be enrapt in her Elysian plains, and Proserpine care not to follow the mother who calls her back: grant a fair passage, and favour my bold endeavour, and with me pitying the country folk who know not of the way, advance, and even now learn to be called on in prayer.
In early spring, when chilly moisture trickles from the hoar hills and the crumbling clod thaws in the west wind, even then would I have the bull begin to groan over the deep-driven plough and the share glitter with polish of the furrow. That field at last replies to the greedy farmer's prayers, which has twice felt the sun, twice the frost; that bursts his granaries with overflowing harvests.
But ere yet our iron cleaves the unknown plain, be our care first to learn the winds, and the sky's shifting mood, and the ground's native nurture and dress, and what each quarter will bear and what each will reject. Here com, there grapes come more prosperously; yonder the tree drops her seedlings, and unbidden grasses kindle into green. Seest thou not how Tmolus sends scent of saffron India ivory, the soft Sabaeans their spice; but the naked Chalybes steel, and Pontus the castor drug, Epirus mares for Elean palms? From of old Nature laid such laws upon certain regions, an everlasting covenant, what time Deucalion of old cast on the unpeopled globe those stones whence the hard race of man was born. Come therefore, from the first months of the year straightway let the strong bulls upturn the rich floor of earth, and the full strength of summer suns bake the flat clods to dust. But if the land be not fertile, it will serve to ridge it by shallow furrows hard on Arcturus' rising; there, lest weeds choke the corn's luxuriance; here, lest scant moisture leave a barren waste of sand.
In turn likewise shalt thou let the stubbles lie fallow, and the idle field crust over unstirred; or else there under changed skies sow golden spelt, where before thou hadst reaped the pea with wealth of rattling pods, or the tiny vetch crop, or the brittle stalks and rustling underwood of the bitter lupin. For the field is drained by flax-harvest and wheat-harvest, drained by the slumber-steeped poppy of Lethe, but yet rotation lightens the labour; only scorn not to soak the dry soil with fattening dung, nor to scatter grimy ashes over the exhausted lands. Thus too the fields find rest in change of crop; nor meanwhile are thanks lost on unploughed land. Often likewise it is well to burn barren fields and consume the light stubble in crackling flame: whether that earth thence conceives secret strength and sustenance, or all her evil is melted away and her useless moisture sweats out in the fire; or that the heat opens more of these ducts and blind pores that carry her juices to the fresh herbage; or rather hardens and binds her gaping veins against fine rain or the fierce sun's mastery or the frostbite of the searching North.
Great service withal he does the fields who breaks their dull clods with the mattock and drags osier hurdles over them, nor from high Olympus does golden Ceres regard him in vain; or he who, raising ridges along the furrowed plain, again turns his plough to break them across, and labours earth incessantly and makes the fields own his sway.
Pray for dripping midsummers and clear winters, O husbandmen; from winter dust the spelt grows strongest, and the field is glad; never does Mysia triumph in such pride of tillage, or Gargarus himself wonder at his harvests. Why tell of him, who, when the seed is cast, follows close over the field and breaks down the lumps of sticky soil? then guides over the crops chasing runlets from the river; and when the blade is dying on the scorched and feverous field, look! on the brow of the slope he lures the wave from her channel; the falling wave wakens a hoarse chatter among the smooth pebbles, and gushes cool over the parched fields. Why of him, who, lest the stalk sink prone under the heavy ear, grazes down the rankness of the cornfield in the tender blade, when the crop first levels the furrow? or who gathers and drains away the moisture of the marsh with porous gravel, above all if in the doubtful months the floods go out on the river, covering all the broad flats with mud, and leave pools steaming with warm moisture in the hollows.
Nor yet, though labours of men and oxen have so wrought in turning the soil, are the villain goose and Strymonian crane and the bitter-fibred succory unavailing to injure, or the shade to harm. Our Lord himself willed the way of tillage to be hard, and long ago set art to stir the fields, sharpening the wits of man with care, nor suffered his realm to slumber in heavy torpor. Before Jove no tillers made the fields subject; not even might the plain be parted by landmark or boundary line; men gathered to a common store, and unaided and unasked earth bore all things in a fuller plenty. He it was who gave the black snake his venom, and bade wolves ravin and the sea be tossed, who shook the honey from the leaves and took fire away, and stopped the brooks that ran wandering with wine: that so practice and pondering might slowly forge out many an art, might seek the corn-blade in the furrow and strike hidden fire from the veins of flint. Then first rivers felt the hollowed alder, then the sailor gave the stars their number and name, Pleiads and Hyades and the bright Lycaonian Bear. Then was invented the snare to catch game and the treacherous lime-twig, and the ring of dogs round the wide forest-lawn; and even now one whips the wide stream and searches the pool with his casting-net, and another draws his lines dripping from the sea. Then rigid iron and the blade of the shrill saw came—for they of old split wood in clefts with wedges—then arts many in sort; nothing but yielded to unrelenting toil and the hard pressure of poverty. Ceres first instructed mortals to upturn earth with iron, when now acorns and arbute-berries were failing from the sacred forest, and Dodona denied them sustenance. Soon the labour of the cornfield too increased; vile mildew must devour the stalk and the thistle lift over the field his lazy spears: the crop dwindles, a rough forest of clivers and burs advances, and fruitless darnel and barren wild-oats reign over the shining tilth. Nay, except thou wilt harass the soil with ceaseless mattock, and frighten off the birds with clamour, and thy pruning-hook lop the darkening rustic shade and thy prayers call down the rain, ah! all in vain wilt thou eye the garner pile of another, and allay thine own hunger from the shaken oak in the woodland.
Likewise must be told what are the weapons of the hardy countryfolk, without which can be neither sowing nor springing of harvests: the share first, and the heavy strength of the curved plough, and the slow rolling wagons of our Lady of Eleusis, sledges and harrows and the weary weight of the mattock; withal the slight wicker ware of Celeus, arbutus hurdles, and Iacchus' mystical winnowing-fan. All these thou wilt heedfully provide and lay up long in store, if the divine country keeps her due honour in thine eyes. Early the forest elm is bowed by main force to bend into a share-beam, and takes the shape of the curving plough; to the stock of it are fitted the long eight-foot pole, the two mould-boards, and the double back of the share-head; and the light lime is cut to season for the yoke, and the tall beech for the plough-tail that is to turn the carriage from above and behind, and oak battens are hung over the fire for the smoke to search them through.
I can repeat to thee many a counsel of them of old, if thou shrink not back nor weary to learn of lowly cares. Above all must the threshing-floor be levelled with the ponderous roller, and wrought by hand and cemented with clinging potter's clay, that it may not gather weeds nor crack in the reign of dust, and be playground withal for manifold destroyers. Often the tiny mouse builds his house and makes his granaries underground, or the eyeless mole scoops his cell; and in chinks is found the toad, and all the swarming vermin that are bred in earth; and the weevil, and the ant that fears a destitute old age, plunder the great pile of spelt.
Look thou likewise, when the walnut in the woodland attires herself in wealth of blossom, and bends with scented boughs; if her fruit exceed, the corn will keep pace with it, and abundant threshing come with abundant heat; but if her shade overflow in luxuriance of leaf, vainly will the chaff-laden straw be beaten on the winnowing-floor.
In truth I have seen many a sower steep his seeds and wash them beforehand in black olive-lees, that the fruit in the treacherous pod might be larger and soften quickly even over a little fire: I have seen them, though long chosen and toilsomely approved, still fall off unless the strong hand of man picked the largest year by year: so is it fated that all things run to the worse and fall dropping backwards; even as one who with strain of oarage urges a skiff up stream, if once he slacken his arms, the prone river current sweeps him headlong down.
Likewise must we no less regard the star of Arcturus and the days of the Kids and the gleaming Serpent, than they who sailing homeward over windswept seas adventure the Pontic and the straits by Abydus' oyster-beds. When the Scales make daylight and sleep equal in hours and just halve the globe between light and shadow, set your bulls at work, O men! sow the barley-fields, right into the showery skirts of frost-bound midwinter: no less is it time to cover in earth the flax-plant and the corn-poppy, and to urge on the belated ploughs while the dry soil allows it, while the clouds hang aloft. In spring beans are sown; then the crumbling furrows receive thee likewise, clover of Media, and the yearly care of the millet crop approaches; when the milkwhite Bull with gilded horns opens the year, and, still facing him, the setting Dogstar retires. But if for wheaten harvest or strong spelt thou wilt work thy ground, and the corn-ear alone is thy desire, first let the Atlantides be at their morning setting and the blazing star of the Cretan Crown sink away, ere thou yield their debt of seed to the furrows, or ere thou hasten to intrust the year's hope to an unwilling earth. Many begin before the setting of Maia; but a harvest of empty ears mocks their expectation. If indeed thou wilt sow the vetch or the common kidney-bean, nor despise the care of the Pelusiac lentil, the setting Bear-warden will send thee no uncertain sign; begin, and carry thy sowing on to the mid-frost.
To this end the golden sun rules an orbit measured out in certain divisions through the twelvefold star-girdle of the world. Five zones are placed in heaven; whereof one ever reddens in the blazing sun and ever is parched by his fire; and round it right and left sweep the utmost two, stiff with blue ice and dark with showers; two between these and the central zone are granted by grace of the gods to weary mortals, and through both a path is drawn where the slant procession of the signs may turn. The world, rising steeply towards Scythia and the Rhipean fortresses, sinks sloping to Libya and the south. This pole of ours is ever uplifted; but the other black Styx and the deep world of ghosts see underneath their feet. Here the enormous Serpent glides forth, wreathing his coils in fashion of a river around and between the two Bears, the Bears that dare not dip under the Ocean floor: there, one saith, either dead night is soundless, and the gloom thickens in night's perpetual pall, or Dawn returns from us and leads back the day; and when day-spring touches us with his panting horses' breath, there crimson Hesperus kindles his lamp at evenfall. Hence can we foreknow the changeful sky's seasons, hence the day of harvest and the time of sowing, and when it befits to drive our oars through the treacherous sparkling sea, when to launch armed fleets, or in due season lay low the woodland pine.
Neither in vain do we mark the signs in their dawning and decease, and the four seasons that make equal division of the year. Whensoever chilly rain keeps the husbandman indoors, many a thing, which must else be hurried through in clear weather afterward, may be done at leisure; the ploughman beats out the stubborn point of his blunted share; one hollows troughs out of the tree; one marks the stamp on the flock or the figures for the granary-heaps; others sharpen stakes and forked poles, and sort Amerian bands for the trailing vine. Now let the basket be lightly woven of briar-rods, now parch corn over the fire and pound it in the stone. Nay, and even on holydays some works are right and lawful; no scruple forbids to guide forth the rivulet, to fence off the cornfield, to set snares for birds, to bum brambles, and to plunge the bleating flock in the healthful stream: often the driver loads his slow-paced donkey's sides with oil or cheap apples, and returning, carries a dressed mill-stone or a lump of black pitch back with him from the town.
The moon's self ordains the days in their several order to be diverse in luck of labour. Shun the fifth, birthday of pale Orcus and the Eumenides; on it earth bore that accursed brood, Coeus and Iapetus and fell Typhoeus, and the brothers that leagued to pluck down heaven. Thrice they essayed to plant Ossa on Pelion, ay, and roll up leafy Olympus upon Ossa: thrice our Lord shattered the mountain pile with his thunderbolt. The seventeenth is lucky for setting the vine, for catching and breaking oxen, for stringing loops in the loom: the ninth favours runaways, but thwarts the thief.
Many a thing even makes better way in the chill of night, or when at sundawn earth is dewy under the orient star. By night the light stubbles, by night the parched meadows are better mown; clinging moisture fails not through the night. And one I know keeps awake late by the winter firelight, and points torchwood with sharp steel: meanwhile, lightening her long toil with song, the wife runs her ringing comb through the web, or boils down the sweet liquid must over the fire and skims with leaves the wave of the bubbling copper. But ruddy corn is cut in noon-day heat, and in noon-day heat the parched grain is trodden on the threshing-floor.
Strip to plough, strip to sow; winter is the farmer's holiday, and the husbandmen feast on their stores all through the frozen time, and spread the banquet among themselves in mirthful round. Merry winter bids the guest and lightens the heart; even as when laden keels at last touch their haven, and the rejoicing mariners hang garlands on the stern. But then nevertheless is the season to strip acorns from the oak and berries of the laurel, the olive and the blood-red myrtle: then to set snares for the crane and nets for the stag, and to hunt the long-eared hare; then to strike down the fallow-deer with the whirling stroke of the hempen Balearic sling, while snow lies deep, while ice blocks the rivers.
Why tell of autumnal storms and stars, and when now the day is briefer and the summer softer, what watches men must keep? or when showerful spring pours down, when the spiky harvest even now ripples on the plains, and when the green blade swells with her milky grain? Often have I seen, when the husbandman was marching in his reapers to the golden fields and just cutting the slim-stalked barley, how all the winds, clashing in battle, would tear right from the roots and fling high whole breadths of heavy corn; in so black a gust would the storm sweep light blade and flying straw away. Often, likewise the waters of heaven descend in infinite armies, and clouds charged from the deep thicken into foul weather black with thundershowers: the sky pours sheer down and washes away the glad crops and labours of the oxen with flooding rain; ditches fill, and river channels swell roaring, and the narrow seas seethe and smoke. Our Lord himself in the midnight of the storm-clouds wields the flashing bolts in his right hand: at their shock ancient Earth trembles, wild beasts slink away, and mortal hearts throughout the nations bow low in terror; he hurls down his flaming shaft on Athos or Rhodope or the Ceraunian heights; the south winds blow fiercer and the rain streams drenching down, and the rushing wind wails over forest and shore.
Fearing this, regard thou heaven in his months and seasons, whither the chill star of Saturn withdraws, to what circles of the sky the Cyllenian wanderer turns his fire. Above all, worship thou the gods, and bring great Ceres her yearly offerings, doing sacrifice on the springing grass close on the verge of dying winter, when now spring skies are clear. Then lambs are fat, and then wines mellowest, then sleep is sweet where the shade thickens on the hill. To Ceres let all thy rustic folk do service; to her wash thou the honeycomb with milk and soft wine, and for luck let the victim thrice encircle the springing crops and all the band of thy fellows keep it joyful company, and loudly call Ceres into the homestead: neither let any lay sickle to the ripe ears till in Ceres' praise, his brows wreathed with twisted oak, he move in rude dances and chant her hymn.
And these things that we might avail to learn by sure tokens, the heats and the rains and the winds that bring cold weather, our Lord himself hath ordained what the moon in her month should foreshadow, at what sign the south wind should drop, what husbandmen should often mark and keep their cattle nearer the farmyard. Straightway when gales are gathering, either the seaways begin to shudder and heave, and a dry roaring to be heard on the mountain heights, or the far-echoing beaches to stir, and a rustling swell through the woodland. Even in that hour the rude surge spares not the curving hull, when gulls fly swiftly back from mid ocean and press screaming shoreward, or when sea-coot play on dry land, and the heron leaves his home in the marshes and soars high above the mist. Often likewise when a gale is toward wilt thou see shooting stars glide down the sky, and through the darkness of night long trails of flame glimmer in their track: often light chaff and fallen leaves flutter in air, or floating feathers dance on the water's surface. But when it lightens from the fierce northern regions, and when Eurus and Zephyrus thunder through their hall, the whole countryside is afloat with brimming ditches, and every mariner at sea furls his soaking sails. Never is rain on us unwarned: either as it gathers in the valley bottoms the crane soars high in flight before it; or the heifer gazing up into the sky snuffs the breeze with wide-opened nostril, or the shrill swallow darts circling about the pond, and the frogs in the mire intone their old complaint. Often likewise the ant carries forth her eggs from her secret chambers along her narrow trodden path, and a vast rainbow drinks, and leaving their feeding-ground in long column armies of rooks crowd with flapping wings. Then seafowl many in sort, and birds that search the fresh pools round the Asian meadows of Caÿster, thou mayest see eagerly splashing showers of spray over their shoulders, and now ducking in the channels, now running up into the waves, and wantoning in their bath with vain desire. Then the villain raven calls full-voiced for rain, and stalks along the dry sand in solitary state. Nor even to girls who ply their spinning nightlong is the storm unknown, while they see the oil sputter, and spongy mould gather on the blazing lamp.
And even thus sunlight after rain and cloudless clearness mayest thou foresee and know by sure tokens. For then neither is the keen edge of the starlight dulled to view, nor does the moon rise flushed by her brother's rays, nor are thin woolly fleeces borne across the sky; neither do kingfishers beloved of Thetis spread their plumage to the sun's warmth upon the shore, nor unclean swine remember to shake out their litter and toss it with their snout. But the mists gather lower down and settle on the flats, and, constant to sun-set, the night-owl from the roof-top keeps vainly calling through the dark. Aloft in the liquid sky Nisus is in sight and Scylla pays the debt of that purple hair: wheresoever her pinions cleave the thin air in flight, lo, hostile, fierce, loud-swooping down the wind, Nisus is upon her; where Nisus mounts into the wind, her hurrying pinions cleave the thin air in flight. Therewithal rooks repeat three or four times a clear thin-throated cry, and often where they sit aloft, happy in some strange unwonted delight, chatter together among the leaves, glad when rains are over to look to their little brood and darling nests once again; not, to my thinking, that their instinct is divine or their dower of fate a larger foresight into nature: but when the weather veers about and the saturated air shifts, and under dripping skies of the south what was rare but now condenses and what was dense expands, their temper changes countenance, and other motions stir within their breasts than stirred while the clouds drove on before the wind; hence the birds make such chorus in the fields, and the cattle are glad, and the rooks caw in exultation.
If indeed thou wilt regard the hastening sun and the moon's ordered sequences, never will an hour of the morrow deceive thee, nor wilt thou be taken in the wiles of a cloudless night. When the moon first gathers her returning fires, if she clasp a dark mist in her dim crescent, drenching rain will be in store for husbandman and seafarer; but if a maiden flush suffuse her face, wind is coming: wind always flushes the gold of the moon: while if at her fourth rising (for that is surest of warrant) she travel through the sky with clear sharp-cut horns, both that whole day and those that shall dawn after it till the month be done will be rainless and windless, and sailors come safe ashore will pay their vows, to Glaucus and Panope and Melicertes son of Ino.
The sun likewise, both in his arising and when he sinks into the waves, will issue signs; most sure are the signs that attend the sun, yielded with morning or at the ascending of the stars. When at dayspring he is dappled with spots and sunk in a mist, and his orbed centre retires, mistrust thou of showers; for a gale is bearing hard from seaward, ill-ominous for trees and crops and herds. Either when towards daybreak spreading shafts struggle out between thick clouds, or when Dawn springs pale from Tithonus' saffron bed, alas! weak defence will the vine-tendril be then to the mellow cluster, so heavily the rough hail dances rattling on the roofs. This likewise, when he has run his race and is now sinking from the sky, will be of yet more service to remember; for often we see shifting colours fluctuate on his face; green presages rain, flame-colour east winds; but if spots begin to mingle with fiery red, then wilt thou see all a single riot of wind and storm-clouds; not on such a night at any persuasion would I voyage through the deep or part moorings from land. But if his circle be bright alike when he brings the day and buries the day he brought, vain will be thy terror of rain-clouds, and thou shalt discern the forests waving in a clear wind from the north.
Lastly, what burden evenfall carries, whence the wind chases clear the clouds, what the dripping South broods over, the sun will signify to thee; who shall dare to call the sun untrue? He likewise often warns of the imminence of dim alarms, of treachery and the gathering of hidden wars; he likewise had pity on Rome at Caesar's decease, when he veiled his shining face in dim rusty red, and an evil age dreaded eternal night. Yet at that season earth too and the plains of sea, and unclean dogs and ominous birds gave presage. How often did we see Etna flooding the Cyclopean fields with the torrent bursting from her furnaces, and rolling forth balls of flame and molten rocks! Germany heard the clash of armour fill the sky; the Alps quaked with unwonted shocks. Moreover a voice was heard of many among silent groves, crying aloud, and phantoms pallid in wonderful wise were seen when night was dim; and cattle spoke, a monstrous thing: rivers stop and earth yawns; and ivory sheds tears of mourning and bronzes sweat in the temples. Eridanus, king of rivers, whirled whole forests away in the wash of his raging eddies, and swept herds and stalls together all across the plains. Neither at that same time did boding filaments ever cease to show themselves in disastrous victims, or blood to ooze from wells, and high cities to echo night-long with howling of wolves. Never elsewhere did more lightnings fall from clear skies, or ghastly comets so often blaze. Therefore a second time Philippi saw Roman lines meet in shock of equal arms, and our lords forbade not that Emathia and the broad plains of Haemus should twice be fattened with our blood. Surely a time too shall come when in those borders the husbandman, as his crooked plough labours the soil, will find spears eaten away with scaling rust, or strike on empty helms with his heavy mattock, and marvel at mighty bones dug up from their tombs. Gods of our fathers, of our country, and thou Romulus, and Vesta, mother who keepest Tuscan Tiber and the Roman Palatine, forbid not at least that this our prince may succour a ruined world! Long enough already has our life-blood recompensed Laomedon's perjury at Troy; long already the heavenly palace, O Caesar, grudges thee to us, and murmurs that thou shouldst care for human triumphs, where right and wrong are confounded, where all these wars cover the world, where wickedness is so manifold and the plough's meed of honour is gone; the fields thicken with weeds, for the tillers are marched away, and bent sickles are forged into the stiff swordblade: here the Euphrates, there Germany heaves with war; neighbouring cities rush into arms one against another over broken laws: the merciless War-God rages through all the world: even as when chariots bursting from their barriers quicken lap by lap, and, vainly tugging at the curb, the driver is swept on by his horses, and the car hearkens not to the rein.